Friday, August 28, 2009

Random little things

So I just remembered something else I miss about the STL: the neighborhood Schnuck's on a Sunday. If you go in the afternoon, people are coming by after church to get a newspaper. I love how the older African-American men are all dressed to the nines in their pinstripe suits and fedoras. Nobody dresses like that in NOVA, the land of the soccer mom.

There are some things I missed about the "DC Metro Area" too, though. There, everyone is from somewhere else, so you don't have to rely on high school connections to find a social network. It's also a big ethnic melting pot. I love how the women in saris always take their evening walks around the neighborhood. Nobody dresses like that in St. Louis, the land of the 4th generation Midwesterner.

Brother #3's elementary school open house looked like the UN this week. His classmates are Indian, Asian, African-American, and of course Irish/Italian/Polish "European mutts" as I call us. I'm glad he has to interact with people who are a little different from him.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thinking of the Loop

The other night I was at a grad student gathering and met a conservator from Missouri. It was amazing to talk with another person who knows all the St. Louis landmarks too! She went to UMSL for undergrad and even lived on The Loop for a while. We swapped stories about all the wacky characters you see on Delmar and about catching the Metrolink at Skinker and Forest Park.

Oh boy, I do miss that part of town. A few weekends back Other Sarah and I wanted to go out to eat, maybe take in some local flavor. Even with GPS and an iPhone, we ended up driving in circles, finding only office buildings and hotels. If only there was a Loop, or South Grand, or Central West End around here! We could dress up cute and then stroll the sidewalks for something to eat, and maybe some vintage clothes while we're at it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Art imitates life?!

After seeing my post about churches in malls and bars in churches, a friend alerted me to this gem of a comic.
I love Married to the Sea, since it combines two of my favorite things: snark and old-timey images.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

God and shopping malls

American Papist picked up a story about the coolest idea I have heard in a long time - Capuchin priests making Confession available in a shopping mall. Brilliant! What a great evangelization tool, reminding people about spiritual needs in the midst of so much buying and selling. Why doesn't my mall have a chapel?

And so, yet another example of Catholic architecture evolving in the 21st century. I was just reading about a church in Pittsburgh that is now a brewery and restaurant. The religious pun names for beers is cute I guess, but I was disturbed by the report that "Indeed, the huge beer vat that produces the beer that patrons are drinking is situated on the altar directly under the baldochino." Seriously?

The same article profiled my childhood parish as an example of post-Vatican II architecture. I was rather surprised to turn the page and see a photo of the Activities Center! The author's interpretation felt a bit off, though- why did she not include a picture of the current church building? Whom did she interview to get the scoop on parish outrage over the plexiglass/bronze crucifix? (Shown here in all its Christmas glory.) There are no footnotes. Curious.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Through the looking glass

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
I Corinthians 13:12

All the 18th century mirrors in the museum make me think about St. Paul.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Memory, that winged host that flew above me" - Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited is my favorite book. Ever since it was on my summer reading list senior year of high school, I've re-read it about once a year. On every return visit I've changed a little, and so I notice or enjoy new things. The notes my 17 year old self made feverishly in colored pencil seem a little silly today.

I did put BR aside during my year in St. Louis, however. Around this time last year, I raced to see the new film adaptation at the Chase Park Plaza theater. The trip had an air of nostalgic melancholy, like realizing you and an old friend no longer have much in common. I realized I was coming to say goodbye. My days of Oxford Arcadian fantasies were over.

But it wasn't really goodbye, apparently. Like the Flyte family in Charles' life, whole sections of the book keep popping into my mind now that I spend my days at a "museum and country estate."Maybe my old friend and I have found a new way to connect.

"Is the dome by Inigo Jones too? It looks later."
"Oh Charles, don't be such a tourist. What does it matter when it was built, if it's pretty?"

"It's the sort of thing I like to know."

On my first visit to Winterthur, I scoffed at its opulence and seemingly redundant acres of antique furniture. Now, as I'm learning to guide tourists through those Chippendale corridors, I'm also discovering the joy of knowing about style and connoisseurship. The other day, I did some exploring one my own and was genuinely wowed by the beauty of the Blackwell Parlor. The information binder in the corner was very helpful. Historical context is the sort of thing I like to know.

It was an aesthetic education to live within those walls, to wander from room to room, from the Soanesque library to the Chinese drawing-room, adazzle with gilt pagodas and nodding mandarins, painted paper and Chippendale fret-work, from the Pompeian parlor ... to sit, hour after hour, in the pillared shade looking out over the terrace.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bon Appetit!

I just returned from seeing Julie and Julia with my roommate, Other Sarah, and I have to say that my heart has been thoroughly warmed. Slow-roasted for hours in a savory wine sauce warmed. Wrapped in a pastry crust and baked to golden brown warmed. Other Sarah and I have both declared that we can think of nothing better than to find doting husbands and then spend the rest of our lives cooking French food for them and our friends.

I could identify with Meryl Streep's Julie as she longed for "Something to do-oo" and chatted non-stop with her sister. I also identified with Amy Adams' Julie as her cubicle labor prompted her to cry "I can write a blog! I have thoughts!" Julie is also bit self-absorbed, which alarmed me. Am I like that? Yikes. At least I know my reader's lives will go on if I stop writing.

I also enjoyed analyzing the technological differences between the protagonist. Back in "the last century," Julia relies on letters to keep tabs on distant friends. On the other hand, Julie can instantly encounter her idol through the ubiquitous visual culture of the 2000's. The French Chef reruns, parody skits, and a Smithsonian exhibit all allow the protagonist to commune with Julia's creative genius. Likewise, Julie's project does not have meaning until it is validated on computer and then movie screens. It's a far cry from Julia's original cookbook draft as stacks of onion skin paper.

Although it is female-focused, the male characters in Julie and Julia are what hold it together. Both husbands are patient, encouraging, and affectionate; although sometimes exasperated by their wives' cooking hobbies. It is rare to see men get so much dignity in a chick flick - there is no reason to gripe about these guys over cosmos. Their relationships with their wives make the film realistic but deeply romantic. No one chases anyone through an airport or builds an elaborate closet or breaks up a wedding. Instead, two couples love each other, work through problems, and generally explore what this film review calls the "happily ever after" part.

A good biopic sends you running back to primary documents, and this film did that. I'm sorry to say my own memories of the real Julia Child are nothing special. When I was a child I only saw her master chef series, where guests did most of the talking. To me, Julia was some foreboding elite chef whose food was boring and complicated. I much preferred the shenanigans of Yan Can Cook or The Frugal Gourmet. Fortunately, PBS has corrected my misconceptions through the Julia Child videos posted on their website. Go check them out for yourself - the Cheese Souffle one is my favorite.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Family field trip!

This past weekend I was able to make one of those impromptu trips home that my parents had been hoping would happen now that I'm within driving distance again. I was just in time for a family trip to the newly remodeled National Museum of American History. Besides Air and Space, this was always my favorite Smithsonian museum. When I was 5, I took home a First Ladies' gowns coloring book. It was a little frustrating since a good 25% of them were something impossible like white, cream, or "bombazine," but I loved it. I made my Mom read me the catalog entries a dozen times.

Here are my opinions of the new, somewhat improved NMAH.
Good Things
  • Overall, the building is brighter and easier to navigate. I was surprised, though, at how little had changed in the overall floorplan.
  • Vastly improved Star Spangled Banner display keeps the flag safe, but still looks cool. The walk-through exhibits about Fort McHenry and the flag's conservation were also good.
  • The extensive "America at War" exhibit was patriotic but not jingoistic. There was plenty to see and touch. My brothers spent a good hour there, not surprisingly.
  • The transportation section was greatly improved. I especially liked how they used turn-of-the-century DC as a case study for emerging interstate markets and transport.
  • "Within These Walls," a 200 year study of a house in Ipswich, MA. They managed to fit in abolition, Irish immigrants, and the WWII homefront, along with a healthy dose of architecture. I was able to identify Queen Anne and Chippendale chairs in the Colonial section!
Not-s0-good things.
  • Lines for the "pop" exhibits. What is this, Disney World? Lots of people want to see the ruby slippers and First Lady dresses. Why are they then in a cramped space with a narrow entrance? I was pleased to learn that the single First Ladies' room is only temporary, though.
  • Restroom entrances are also preposterously narrow. What would someone do with a stroller if there was a line backed up to the door?
  • My brothers reported that the invention section was mostly hand-wringing about the dangers of the nuclear age.
  • Julia Child's kitchen was fun, albeit a little fluffy. It's indicative of our culture that everyone ended up just staring at the video clips of her show.
Overall, the exhibits tried to suit their "national" role, painting broad pictures of major historical trends. I'll be curious to see what other innovations arrive in coming months.

My favorite moment was walking through the 20th century war section. Each "generation" of my family related to something different. We all chuckled at the kitchy WWII war bond cartoons and posters. Then we arrived at Vietnam, which Dad could of course remember. We gathered around the plastic-wrapped avocado sofa to watch sobering news clips of Saigon. Then on to chunks of the Berlin Wall, which is one of my earliest news footage memories. I did a double take when a teeanger said, "Mom, what's the Berlin Wall?" My middle brother and sister were most fascinated by the twisted hunks of metal from the World Trade Center. Brother #3 didn't linger there; he was still in diapers when terrorists attacked it. What memories will he associate with war?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Welcome new VSCs!

It's hard to believe, but a new VSC year has started. The last of my roommates left on Friday, and the new volunteers arrived yesterday. WELCOME! Right now you still barely know one another, and you are probably still confused by all the random artwork and objects around the house. Sr. T will be keeping you busy with orientation and field trips to your service sites. It's a tough week, but an important rite of passage. (Here's what I was feeling this time last year.)
I can't wait to receive the VSC newsletter and hear all about you!

As for me, I have moved yet again, to a lovely little apartment in Delaware. Grad school summer classes started last week. I am again in a community of 8, only this time we are all museum people. We even have not one, but two token males!

I've only been here a short time, but already it feels like home. I remain woefully ignorant about antiques, but have had little trouble getting back into a school schedule. Today I studied (and handled) trade bills from the 1880's, ate lunch in the Enchanted Woods garden, then communed with 1760's Chippendale-style chairs. Can someone pinch me?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I want to go to there!

The new logo for World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid was recently announced. Ooh, I really want to go! Spain! The Pope! Thousands of other Catholics! Spain!

World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto the biggest adventure of my teens, and remains one of my fondest memories. Going to WYD as a young adult would certainly be very different.

The Madrid event will be just after I finish my master's degree - graduation present? Or will I luck out and be already employed by then and too busy to travel? I better start thinking of a research project involving Spanish material culture.